Ancient Pueblo Peoples Practiced Advanced Geometry without a Known Written Language or Numerical System, Could You?

Ancient Pueblo Peoples Practiced Advanced Geometry without a Known Written Language or Numerical System, Could You?

(Read the article on one page)

A startling discovery was made while studying the mysterious Sun Temple at the Mesa Verde archaeological site in Colorado, USA – a repeated pattern of shapes and measurements stands out in the architecture. But how did the ancient Pueblo peoples build their sophisticated site? The Southwestern Pueblo people who built the site around 1200 AD had no known writing or numerical systems to help them in their architectural endeavors.

This intriguing discovery was made by Dr. Sherry Towers, a professor with the Arizona State University’s Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center, who had spent years examining the Sun Temple at Mesa Verde.

The Sun Temple at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA.

The Sun Temple at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

Although Heritage Daily reports that she began her work with a different purpose, Dr. Towers was surprised to see the same measurements cropping up over and over again – specifically, she saw that the site was laid out using a unit of measurement that was just over 30 centimeters (just under a foot) in length.

Equilateral triangles, squares, 45-degree right triangles, Pythagorean triangles, and the famed “ Golden rectangle ” kept popping out at her while she examined the enigmatic feature of the well-known archaeological site as well.

A satellite photo of the Sun Temple archaeological site in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, USA with illustrations demonstrating its geometrical properties.

A satellite photo of the Sun Temple archaeological site in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, USA with illustrations demonstrating its geometrical properties. ( Dr. Sherry Towers )

Interestingly, Dr. Towers also found evidence suggesting that these geometrical shapes were present at other ancient Pueblo sites as well -  Pueblo Bonito, in New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historic Park, provides another example of this knowledge at a ceremonial site. Others may be found in the future as well.

As Popular Archaeology states: “With some geometrical know-how, a straight-edge, a compass or cord, and a unit of measurement, all of the shapes are fairly easy to construct.” But how did the ancient Pueblo peoples go about their construction without a written language or numerical system to aid them?

A satellite photo of the Pueblo Bonito archaeological site in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico, USA with illustrations demonstrating some of its geometrical properties.

A satellite photo of the Pueblo Bonito archaeological site in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico, USA with illustrations demonstrating some of its geometrical properties. ( Dr. Sherry Towers )

The ability for the Southwestern Pueblo peoples to create measurements that were near-perfect, with a relative error of less than one percent, provides more evidence that ancient civilizations were more advanced than some people believe - in-fact, they were likely just as, or more, creative than most people today. As Dr. Towers says :

"This is what I find especially amazing. The genius of the site's architects cannot be underestimated. If you asked someone today to try to reconstruct this site and achieve the same precision that they had using just a stick and a piece of cord, it's highly unlikely they'd be able to do it, especially if they couldn't write anything down as they were working."

A view of the Sun Temple from Cliff Palace loop.

A view of the Sun Temple from Cliff Palace loop. (Robin Stevens/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

Returning to Dr. Towers original interest in the Sun Temple; she was looking for evidence suggesting the site’s use in astronomical observations. As she has said:

“The site is known to have been an important focus of ceremony in the region for the ancestral Pueblo peoples, including solstice observations,” Towers says. “My original interest in the site involved looking at whether it was used for observing stars as well.”

The Sun Temple.

The Sun Temple. (Ken Lund/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

Despite its name, the exact purpose of the Sun Temple has not yet reached consensus, but like Dr. Towers, many other researchers have wondered if the Sun Temple was an ancient observatory. For example, Gary A. David has previously written on Ancient Origins :

“[…] the so-called Sun Temple was used exclusively for watching the skies. It is located on top of the mesa rather along cliff sides within the canyons. Perched at the southern edge of the mesa near the juncture of Fewkes Canyon and Cliff Canyon, this D-shaped structure lies a bit more than 300 yards southwest of Cliff Palace, which is located on the far side of the latter canyon. These two canyons, by the way, contained a total of 33 habitation sites.”

Comments

“ ancient civilizations were more advanced than some people believe. “

Music to my Ears, Thank you for sharing this!

After looking at this structure again I have to wonder if the double wall "air space" architecture might have been for insulation from possible extreme temperature events during that time period? Or a Refrigerator to keep special food stuffs cool? Let the cool in at night and then close it up to maintain this cool during the day? We had a similar very thick wall stone building like this on the ranch that was designed to maintain an even cool temp where we would hang our Beef and Venison to age and preserve it. 

The purpose for this double wall construction is very intriguing...

Having a passel of goddaughters, nieces, nephews and friends kids, pulling babysitter duty has taught me that watching kids play is enlightening. They will hit the beach and *build*. They build advanced structures with nothing more than imagination and a small bucket and shovel that display 'architecturally advanced ideas'. They will design road systems for Tonka Toys that beats the hell out of Rochester NY's infamous Can of Worms interchange. They will use Legos, Lincoln Logs and those spiffy blocks to build even more interesting structures.

I really don't think that a 5 year old kid is really watching their environment all that closely. People are like insects and animals, we have an urge to build, and there are only so many ways to stack shit and have it stand. The whole angles/Golden Mean and whatever else is touted in that lovely little drawing is silly. They built structures that they needed, in sizes that were convenient - I would be willing to bet that entire Sun Temple cpmplex was erected at one time, by a single work gang with a single guy in charge so of course there is a single 'base measurement'. Now I would be more interested if 10 or 15 temples and villages constructed over 100 years had the same 30 cm base measurement, that would show that they were using some sort of standardized measurement.

[and doesn't it seem that historically 12-18 inches is a fairly common base measurement? Look at the cubit, and the various iterations of the foot. Not that I buy into the whole Freemason thing, but when they started having 'architect' and 'builders' as a profession, they did need to come up with some sort of standardized terminology and measurements so they could arrange and order building sites.]

But the “D” shape with the straight walls of both facing due South is very curious. Why? 

On second thought… I notice in the third image down of the Sun Shrine, only the front straight wall surface is being exposed to direct sunlight. Less wall surface mass exposed to direct sunlight would indeed result in a cooler overall temperature throughout the day. Could the reason for the “D” shape be for this practical common sense functionality? 

another example of a stretching ambiguous points to make a point for a paper.. and do not reflect the reasoning of the actual builders.. given enough arbitrary points one can find all kinds of geometric shapes that have nothing to do with the actual structure

Pages

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article